At Christmas, there is a lot of pressure to attend the right events from mid-November, plan perfect trips for the whole family and keep the festive spirit high.

When it came to booking tickets for events our family would attend this Christmas, I may have given in to the pressure and booked quite a few tickets in November/December.

And there’s nothing worse than showing up and it’s a total disaster and anything but the perfect Instagram picture you envisioned.

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We’ve all been through this. One family member just isn’t up for it, the crowds are too big and it costs an exorbitant amount of money to feed everyone, and you end up coming home wishing you hadn’t left.

Thankfully it was far from our experience heading to the Enchanted Winter Garden in Antrim this year, and miraculously it was even the magical Christmas trip we had hoped for.

If you are not familiar with the annual festive event, the council transforms Antrim Castle Gardens into a truly magical Christmas experience with beautiful light displays, attractions for children of all ages, amazing food stalls and Santa too.

We’ve been going for two years now and although we’ve enjoyed it, this year it just clicked and made it a really good night.

Our son is four years old and although he used to be mesmerized by all the lights, he is now the perfect age to walk the route by himself (which luckily meant no buggy for us), he can stay up a bit later due to accidents . prevented -fatigue and was able to go on many rides, which equaled a happy boy.

From previous experiences we knew it would be cold as temperatures are currently low, but there is something about these gardens at night that gives you a Baltic feel.

The soap bubble man will surely be well received by the children
The soap bubble man will surely be well received by the children

Before leaving the house we made sure we all had our hats, gloves and big coats and for extra comfort I even took off my old Ugg boots (don’t judge me, best decision I made). It seems obvious, but putting a little more thought into what we carry made the whole trip more enjoyable for all of us. We even brought some of those hand warmers that changed the game.

I also decided that we would take as few things as possible. Most booths accept contactless payments so all I needed was my phone and tickets, which made it much easier. It’s easier for some families than others, but for us it made a difference this year.

Enchanted Conservatory in Antrim

Our appointment was on Saturday night at 5pm and previous years we had to endure huge queues to get in at the same time, but this year we arrived around 4.45pm and although others arrived at the same time there was barely a queue and we are almost straight away.

I also pre-ordered tokens this year when I booked my tickets so we wouldn’t have to queue for the tokens on our night. Upon arrival we got our bags and off we went.

Our first stop was the Ferris Wheel, which is the most expensive ride if the whole family wants to try it, but it was pretty spectacular to get a feel for the whole facility. If you are not afraid of heights, this is not for you as the cages are a bit wobbly and you stop at the top to enjoy the breathtaking views. Not where you want to be if heights aren’t your thing.

There is no denying that Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council do a fantastic job of organizing this event and have staff available to answer any questions, issues or concerns.

In addition to the rides and food stalls spread across the grounds, there are numerous different sections of the garden walk dedicated to various light displays. No matter your age, it’s hard not to be impressed by what’s on display, and there are definitely plenty of Instagram photo opportunities. My only caveat here is that you will have to wait in line to get the perfect photo. This may cause crowds and delays in certain areas. So be prepared.

Enchanted Winter Garden in Antrim, one of Northern Ireland’s premier Christmas events.

As we arrived a bit earlier we didn’t find the queues bothersome this year and I think the route was changed slightly which seemed to make a big difference.

There is the dedicated Festival Fayre dining area with pizza stalls, festive fries and plenty of food from famous local chefs. It’s an impressive lineup with much more than the usual food truck offering. This area is busy not only because of the food, but also the Dazzling Tea Cup ride, which was the longest line for us. Our son is also so fascinated by the popular Wave Swinger here, but I felt a little sick thinking about it.

The big hit for us was the train ride to Helter Skelter and Santa Claus, and we didn’t have to wait long either. Maybe we were just lucky, but if you don’t have tickets yet, I’d recommend the earlier slots before everyone else enters the place.

One thing that always has a queue is Santa’s grotto so we decided to bypass it as we will be meeting him later this month. Save us the long wait and questions about why it’s taking so long. A few years ago it was free to see Santa in the Enchanted Winter Garden, but now it costs three tokens (£3), so be warned.

Meet Santa at the Enchanted Winter Garden in Antrim

The magical thing about the Enchanted Winter Gardens is that you don’t know what’s coming or when you’ll meet any of the characters. Our son loved seeing the Grinch, Mayor Augustus Maywho and Cindy Lou and wanted to know if they were real or not. I have to say the costumes were amazing and it would be hard to tell a child that this is just someone in costume.

Another big hit is the Bubble Man. There is a man riding around on a bicycle with a machine that plays music and blows bubbles. Be careful not to lose a child who is running behind.

So if you can’t decide where to go with the family this Christmas, I can say you won’t go far wrong with the Enchanted Winter Garden. However, my advice would be to dress for the weather, don’t bring too much, buy tokens in advance, book early but be prepared for some queues.

Even my husband, who can be a bit of a Grinch at times, admitted that he had a great time this year and that it was a very special night for our family.

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